Multi-Party Human-Robot Interaction: The Challenge of Social Context Awareness

Abstract: Many real-world applications require that robots handle the complexity of multi-party social encounters. At first glance, these multi-party encounters may be seen as a trivial generalization of dyadic interactions, suggesting no special consideration. Unfortunately, this approach is limited  in practice because it ignores higher-order effects, like group factors, that often drive human behavior in Human-Robot Interaction (HRI).

In this talk, I will describe two research directions that we believe are important to advance multi-party HRI. One direction focuses on understanding group dynamics and social group phenomena from an experimental perspective. The other focuses on leveraging structured, data-driven methods for reasoning about individual, inter-personal and group-level context factors relevant to these interactions. Examples of these research directions include efforts to motivate prosocial human behavior in HRI, improve spatial reasoning for robots in human environments and understand non-verbal communication in group settings. As part of this talk, I will also describe our recent efforts to scale HRI data collection for early system development and testing via online interactive surveys. We have begun to explore this idea in the context of social robot navigation but, thanks to advances in game development engines, it could be easily applied to other HRI application domains.

Bio: Marynel Vázquez is an Assistant Professor in Yale’s Computer Science Department, where she leads the Interactive Machines Group. Her research focuses on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), especially in multi-party and group settings. Marynel is a recipient of the 2022 NSF CAREER Award, two Amazon Research Awards and a Google Research Scholar Award. Recently, her work has been recognized with best paper awards at HRI’23 and RO-MAN’22. Prior to Yale, Marynel was a Post-Doctoral Scholar at the Stanford Vision & Learning Lab and obtained her M.S. and Ph.D. in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, where she was a collaborator of Disney Research. Before then, she received her bachelor's degree in Computer Engineering from Universidad Simón Bolívar in Caracas, Venezuela.